Book Review – Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

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Winter Sisters

By Robin Oliveira

Penguin

Trade paperback

Feb 27, 2018

$17.00

409 pages

Set in 1879 in Albany, New York

In Robin Oliveira’s “Winter Sisters,” it’s February 1879, and Albany, New York experiences a blizzard that changes the lives of its residents forever. Among the unfortunate is David O’Donnell and his family. David and Bonnie died in the street after the blizzard that claimed the lives of many. The tragedy was followed by the disappearance of their two young daughters. The teacher left them to fend for themselves as the blizzard gained strength. No one came for Emma and Claire.

Immediately after learning of David and Bonnie’s deaths, their friend Mary Stripp, a well-known Civil War surgeon and her husband, William, will not accept that the girls are dead. Mary informs the police chief, a man she intuitively does not trust, about the girls being missing. He believes they’ve drowned in the river in their attempt to get home. He promises to search for them but informs Mary and her husband that he is overwhelmed by those still being recovered. Mary cannot accept this, knowing the danger that the longer they are out there lost, their chances of survival are reduced. She’s determined to locate the girls on her own, no matter what danger.

The mystery of their disappearance leads them down disturbing paths of child prostitution and the rights of women forced, because of economic difficulties, into this line of work. It touches upon the legal age of consent being ten in New York State in 1879. When the ice of the river begins to break apart and flood the city, the struggle to survive continues.

Winter Sisters strikes a hornet’s nest. It’s about one sister’s sacrifice to protect the other. It’s about how some people feel they can do what they want and get away with it. It’s about determination and heartbreak. About being strong and then shutting down to protect your own heart and mind. There’s so much more this book touches upon that makes you believe that somethings never change, but you have to believe that darkness does not win in the end. Equality of women in the medical field is the second conflict the author deals with, but the girls tragic experience overpowers it. You will be surprised who rights the wrong.

This book deserves five stars.

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

June 15, 2019

 

 

 

New Title: Death in Kew Gardens by Jennifer Ashley

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ABOUT DEATH IN KEW GARDENS

From the New York Times bestselling author of Scandal Above Stairs

Kat Holloway steps out from beneath the stairs and into international intrigue, where murder and stolen treasure lurk among the upper echelons of Victorian London.


In return for a random act of kindness, scholar Li Bai Chang presents young cook Kat Holloway with a rare and precious gift—a box of tea. Kat thinks no more of her unusual visitor until two days later when the kitchen erupts with the news that Lady Cynthia’s next-door neighbor has been murdered.

Known about London as an “Old China Hand,” the victim claimed to be an expert in the language and customs of China, acting as intermediary for merchants and government officials. But Sir Jacob’s dealings were not what they seemed, and when the authorities accuse Mr. Li of the crime, Kat and Daniel find themselves embroiled in a world of deadly secrets that reach from the gilded homes of Mayfair to the beautiful wonder of Kew Gardens.

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Guest Blog Post: Let’s Play DID YOU KNOW…

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            By Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Did you know that the great Angela Lansbury wasn’t the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher? It was Jean Stapleton, who famously played Edith Bunker in All in the Family. Imagine that! I can’t picture anyone else in the role of Jessica. Angela Lansbury’s visage graces the covers of all the MURDER, SHE WROTE books and I see her whenever I picture Jessica. The two of them are so entwined as to be inseparable. Which led me to wonder what other pop culture surprises might follow those same three words, Did you know . . .

            DID YOU KNOW, for example, that the original choice to play Harry Callahan in the modern cop classic Dirty Harry wasn’t Clint Eastwood; it was Frank Sinatra! Upon reading the script, though, Old Blue Eyes wanted no part of such a violent film. The studio turned to Eastwood who ordered a major rewrite by the era’s top screenwriter John Milius. And Milius’ polish added virtually all of the film’s signature lines including, “Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” And a star was born.

            Speaking of Frank Sinatra, DID YOU KNOW that he was also offered the role of John McClane in Die Hard. Not because the studio actually wanted him, but because they had no choice. See, Sinatra had purchased the rights to The Detective, a Roderick Thorpe novel which he produced as a film and played the hero Joe Leland. Well, as it turns out Die Hard was actually written by Thorpe under the title Nothing Lasts Forever as a sequel to The Detective. Because it also featured Joe Leland and Sinatra technically owned the rights to the character, he had to be offered the role. Sinatra, of course, declined, setting the stage for another star to be born in Bruce Willis.

            But DID YOU KNOW that Willis wasn’t the first choice for John McClane? Far from it, in fact. Kurt Russell was reportedly the studio’s pick, but he passed. So did Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burt Reynolds and Richard Gere—all stars at the time who couldn’t imagine how an action movie set entirely inside a building could possibly succeed. Well, not only did it succeed, it redefined the action film forever and established an entirely new form in the process. How many times, after all, have you heard a film described as “Die Hard in a blank?”

            DID YOU KNOW that Paramount wanted no part of Al Pacino as Michael in The Godfather? Not only that, execs were so determined to fire him that director Francis Ford Coppola shot the famed restaurant scene out of sequence to prove Pacino was a star in the making. Case closed! Who was the studio’s original first choice to play Michael? In a 2004 interview with Movieline, Jack Nicholson said he turned down the role. “Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians,” Nicholson said in the interview. “There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay him.”

            DID YOU KNOW Paramount wanted no part of Marlon Brando either. The first name they raised to play Vito Corleone was John Marley who was coming off Love Story which had been the #1 movie of 1970. Marley, of course, went on to play film producer Jack Woltz and became famous for finding a horse’s head in his bed.

            Speaking of hit films, there are few with more tumultuous shooting timelines than Jaws. During all that downtime brought on by lousy weather and a broken mechanical shark, Steven Spielberg pondered why the shark hunter played by Robert Shaw hates sharks so much. It wasn’t in the book and neither author Peter Benchley or screenwriter Carl Gottlieb had a clue. So Spielberg called back the great John Milius (just as Clint Eastwood had for Dirty Harry) who’d already written the famed fingernails on the blackboard Quint intro. But DID YOU KNOW that when Milius couldn’t nail the scene, none other than Robert Shaw stepped forward and asked for a chance? The scene was scheduled to shoot on the Orca set the next day and Shaw promised to come in with pages. Only he showed up drunk instead, having memorized the lines. Knowing he couldn’t use the footage, Spielberg only pretended to roll the cameras as Shaw launched into the now famous Indianapolis monologue. The crew listened, utterly mesmerized, and then the next day Shaw came in sober enough to nail the scene in one take! All without ever putting the words on paper.

            And, speaking of Jaws, DID YOU KNOW that to the day he died Roy Scheider claimed he ad-libbed the signature line, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” Although no one else has ever definitively corroborated that, watching the scene today it does appear the line caught Robert Shaw by surprise. But plenty of his fellow actors have corroborated John Belushi’s assertion that was indeed a real bottle of Jack Daniels he chugged for a scene in Animal House.

            Similarly, Matthew McConaughey became famous for the first line he ever uttered on film: “All right, all right, all right,” in Richard Linkletter’s Dazed and Confused. But DID YOU KNOW he almost never got to deliver it? Reading for his first film role ever, McConaughey killed his audition, but Linkletter told him he was too good looking to play Wooderson, the town’s perpetually adolescent Lothario. So he came in to his callback with a white t-shirt and a comb over. McConaughey got the role but his father died just before filming was scheduled to start and Linkletter hated the notion of recasting the role. So he held it open as long as he could and, low and behold, McConaughey returned to the set just in time. Linkletter was shooting the drive-in scene at the time and was so happy to see McConaughey back, he added him to the scene with instructions to ad-lib his lines, including “Love them redheads,” another of his most iconic ones.

Guest Blog Post – Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block By Fred Waitzkin

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Fred Waitzkin

Young writers often ask if I am sometimes afflicted by writer’s block and if I’ve discovered a cure. Most writers wrestle with this malady from time to time.  Over the years my relationship to the illness has evolved, and as an older writer I see it as a frustrating companion who at times can offer profound advice.

All authors relish days feeling on fire with a story when sentences pour out, almost without effort or thought. They spill into paragraphs and pages. It feels like riding a magic carpet that will soar on forever. I call such periods, writing within the bubble. But then after days or weeks, inevitably, life gets in the way.

Image 5-18-19 at 6.04 PMConsider this scenario: I’m just home from a ten-day fishing trip, determined to get back to my manuscript when my grandson Jack begs me to take him to tomorrow’s Mets game. Instead of going to my office I take Jack to the game. We’re both excited as hell about our trip on the subway…. It’s okay. I’d been on a roll with my story. Another day won’t matter at all. As we rumble toward Mets stadium, I pleasantly recall the feeling of riding the carpet, the story pouring out of me…. I’ll be back there tomorrow.

The Mets lose. Jack cries, inconsolable in his new Mets cap as we’re leaving the stadium. “Why do the Mets always lose, Baba?”

I’m thinking about Jack’s sorrow and the Mets string of losing seasons. I’m disgusted with the Mets, a thickening edifice forming between me and my story.

Next morning I’m finally back in front of my computer after an eleven-day break. I take a look at my last chapter…. Pretty good. I sit at the computer waiting for the words to flow…. Nothing. I wait. Nothing. Four more days pass of nothing. I’m pulling what’s left of my hair. Now I’m living outside the bubble.

Okay, seven days of writer’s block. I’m back in my office at 9:30. I make a cup of tea. I pace around a little. I have a lunch date at 12:30. I’m looking forward to that. I stare at my Mac like it’s the enemy. I begin to pace around. I sip tea. I look at my computer. No way I’m sitting there to suffer any more. I snap on my old radio and listen to sports talk radio, a discussion about the Mets falling apart after a promising start to the season. Every year they do it. They cannot hit…. It’s now 11. I look at the computer, shake my head, no way. I pace in the hall. I come back into the office and read the paper. Now it’s 11:50. Almost time to leave for lunch. Not yet, Waitzkin, not yet. I stall another five minutes, pressure building. It’s twelve. Suddenly I throw myself into my chair in front of the keys. I need to leave my office for lunch in 18 minutes. It’s now or never…, and if I’m lucky, the dam breaks. Words pour out. I’m feverishly typing words that wouldn’t come for days. They are gushing out now when I hardly have time to write them, trying to catch them in the air like butterflies, get them into the machine… I’ve written some of my best paragraph this way, when it was do or die.

Another trick for writer’s block: I always carry around a tiny notebook in my shirt pocket. When I’m riding my bike home along the river, thinking about the Mets losing streak, an idea pops into my head. I stop the bike and jot it into the book. I’m talking to my wife Bonnie and an idea suddenly appears. I’m talking to my son. He shakes his head, annoyed, while I scrawl treasure into my notebook. “Dad never listens to me.”

Two days ago, I was stumped how to end an essay about my artist mother. I woke up after a two-hour nap and suddenly I could see the words hanging in the air in front of me. I wrote them in the notebook before they disappeared…. Carry a notebook. Just having it with you elicits ideas.

I wrote my new novel, Deep Water Blues, without once having writer’s block. It was pure bliss, beginning to end. I’d decided I was going to write a short book, 150 pages or less, something I could hold in my head without having to turn back to see what I’d written two or three years earlier. I was determined to write this one fast. And also, I’d gone into it after having written a screenplay, my first. I wanted this new book to move like a movie.

Deep Water Blues describes a gruesome disaster that takes place to a little island civilization—an island once gorgeous, and peaceful, almost Eden like, and in the aftermath, the island becomes decimated by greed, out-of-control ambition, violence and murder. At the heart of it, Deep Water Blues, which was inspired by true events, is an adventure story. I wanted to tell the story fast, fast and violent with no looking back, no flashbacks, mostly taut bold scenes as in riveting film…. Writing this book took me over like a runaway train.

There was no room for writer’s block in my new book. Pace and length and a harrowing story were the key elements. Maybe I’ll try that again.

About the author:

Fred Waitzkin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1943. When he was a teenager he wavered between wanting to spend his life as a fisherman, Afro Cuban drummer, or novelist. He went to Kenyon College and did graduate study at New York University. His work has appeared in EsquireNew York magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the New York Times Book ReviewOutsideSports IllustratedForbes, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, among other publications. His memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was made into a major motion picture released in 1993. His other books are Mortal GamesThe Last Marlin, and The Dream Merchant. Recently, he has completed an original screenplay, The Rave. Waitzkin lives in Manhattan with his wife, Bonnie, and has two children, Josh and Katya, and two grandsons, Jack and Charlie. He spends as much time as possible on the bridge of his old boat, The Ebb Tide, trolling baits off distant islands with his family.

Book Review – A Dangerous Collaboration By Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration

By Deanna Raybourn

Fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries series

Berkley Hardcover

March 12, 2019

$26.00

323 pages

Set in Victorian era, 1888 London

Lepidopterist Miss Veronica Speedwell was not created for a life of ordinary pursuits and it would take an extraordinary man to live with her on her own terms we are told in the first chapter of “A Dangerous Collaboration.” The lady has attitude and that “dear reader” is clearly noted. Though the fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries series, you’ll be impressed with the lyrical nature of the author’s style.

When an invitation is extended to Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, to travel to a secluded castle he invites Miss Speedwell, his brother’s colleague. For her to accompany him, Tiberius informs his friend that she is his future wife. This lie disturbs Stoker enough for him to meet them after traveling to the remote St. Maddern’s. More than the brother’s jealousy stirs as a storm begins to threaten the safety of those living near the castle.

The premise of the story revolves around an unsolved mystery. Simply said, their host, Tiberius’ old friend Malcolm Romily, the Lord of the castle, cannot rest until he knows what happened to his new bride, Rosamund, on their wedding night. She vanished causing a scandal and destroying any happiness Malcolm might have had in his life. He’s not alone in his misery. His sister, Mertensia, who prefers her poison garden for medicinal purposes, over people, has led a life of isolation. Mertensia is considered a white witch and she doesn’t follow society’s norms. It would seem she does as she pleases, but in reality, she cares for the villagers. Then there’s Malcom’s sister-in-law, Helen and her son, Caspian.

The truth of the matter is that Malcolm wants Tiberius, Veronica and Stoker to solve the mystery so he can end this dark chapter in his life. They agree to dig up clues which can lead to certain realities best left buried.

What’s not to love about this book? The descriptions of the castle present a haunting sketch of its historical structure. There’s twisting stairs of stone, priest holes, tunnels, towers and cellars. There’s house staff, villagers, legends and crafty young boys. In the center of it all is Veronica who is an intelligent renaissance woman who dares to wear pants, carry her specimen pins and not want to be like the women of her time. Loved the clever plot, the personalities of the characters, the arrogance, frustration, tension. Oh, and a lepidopterist collects specimens of butterflies. Malcolm actually told her there was a unique type of butterfly at the castle grounds in an attempt to convince her to come with him. My only regret with this book is that Stoker is fictional. Damn, he sounds like quite the catch.

Five butterfly nets out of five because it’s intelligent

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

May 12, 2019

Guest Blog Post: How I Was Transformed During My Dark Blossom Publishing Journey By Neel Mullick

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Neel Mullick

Dark Blossom came to my rescue at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life. My imagination had run amok and created characters that were very different from me but were facing similar yet exaggerated ordeals in their lives. I finally took to the pen when I found myself consumed by the need to crawl under their skins, connect with them empathically, and describe the world the way they were seeing it. To be honest, it wasn’t until I had lost a couple of months and gained almost ten pounds that I realized I was writing a story!

Even though the book is not auto-biographical by any stretch of imagination, I did find myself turning to events, experiences, and people from my life for inspiration and it does have bits and pieces of me.

While my characters’ ordeals may be considered dark, my innateness drove me to narrate their stories in an entertaining way. Soon I discovered this to be the salve I needed in my life, because in order to achieve that, I needed a double dose of empathy – for my characters as well as for readers. And it was because of the role of the book in filling that personal void that I decided to donate half my royalties to charity.

I am only beginning to understand that writing and learning are synonymous but perhaps the most significant epiphany has been the realization that a good story takes place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perception. A good story must be borne from a sincere place and telling it in a way that captivates audiences requires understanding how people perceive it viscerally. While the former allowed me to delineate the range of my characters’ expressions, the latter lets readers partake of such expression. While the former can get you to a first draft, it takes brutal honesty with respect to understanding the latter that gets you to a final version.

rsz_mullick_coffeeGiven that I had taken to writing in somewhat of a frenzy, I had to subsequently double back for research. This was all the more important because I was not only aspiring to deal with a lot of sensitive topics in a riveting way but also narrating from the perspective of a woman psychologist who was from a cultural background different from mine. I had to both push myself out of my comfort zone and dig very deep within. Other than reading works of fiction as well as non-fiction (including autobiographies) dealing with these sensitive topics, I also had to talk to a lot of psychologists. I needed to understand the subtleties of suffering and how specialists help the human psyche cope with and heal such fractures.

The first draft took me about three months but then came the more arduous process of editing. Even though it took more rounds of editing than I am embarrassed to admit, they were almost evenly paced out over one and a half years. In retrospect, this worked out better for me as well as for the story, because it took me that long to be honest and objective about it.

While readers seem to be enjoying Dark Blossom as a suspenseful psychological thriller, to me it remains a story of love in spite of loss and of empathy in the face of adversity. So it’s even more gratifying when I get an occasional note from a reader telling me not just how much they enjoyed it but also what they took away from the book on love, parenting, and on healing for that matter.

Now that I have crossed the bridge of publishing and am navigating the streets of marketing, I am convinced that, first and foremost, there is no substitute for a good story and great storytelling. And the process that helped me the most in getting there was support from a good and sincere editor – one who has ample experience and few prejudices. To anyone looking to get published, I would strongly recommend subjecting your work to the feedback of such an editor, honestly, before putting your work out there.

Once this critical ingredient is ready, come all the other aspects of publishing the book and then promoting it. Given the many distractions competing for people’s attention these days, it bodes well for authors to think through not only how their story will reach target readers but also how their band will resonate with their audience.

If you do all these things you make the publisher’s job easier. But perhaps more importantly, if success takes time, then being true to this process will give you the confidence and belief to persevere.

Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.

An Interview with Susan Welch,  author of A THREAD SO FINE

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Susan Welch

Susan Welch makes her publishing debut with a deeply personal novel, A THREAD SO FINE (Faodail Publishing: May 2019). Set in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Ithaca, New York, between August 1946 and November 1965, the novel follows the lives of Eliza and Shannon Malone. So-called “Irish twins,” the sisters share a close bond – despite their often clashing personalities. Studious and responsible, Eliza, the younger at 17, plans to pursue intellectual fulfillment, beginning with a Catholic college near her home. At 18, the spirited Shannon is less certain about her future – but wants it to include art, nature, and children. Suddenly, tragedy strikes. Shannon falls ill with tuberculosis. Eliza falls prey to a violent assault. Separated by increasing distance, physical and emotional, the sisters go on to live their own lives. One vows to hold fast to the invisible thread that connects them – and to protect her sister’s secret.

Image 5-12-19 at 1.55 PM (1)Read on as Susan discusses the sensitive topics she dealt with in her book A THREAD SO FINE:

One of your main characters in the novel exiles herself from her family after having a baby out of wedlock.  Has the stigma been removed from unwed mothers and illegitimate children today?  How were they restricted by society’s standards and expectations in earlier decades in the 20th century?

I suppose for a certain subset of women, it has changed.  After all, I was an ‘unwed mother’ when I first gave birth in 2000, as a 37 year old, white middle class woman living in progressive Seattle.  Of course, no one but my own mother gave me grief for that.  But I can imagine for many, particularly young women not only stigma remains, but a spectrum of economic hardships as well.

What I don’t think has truly changed is this: it seems in practice, that women are still on the wrong side of a persistent social more – that babies should be raised in two parent households, and that society itself has little or no obligation to support economically single parents (male or female) so that keeping their babies is at least an option.  Don’t get me wrong – I am not at all against adoption, in fact, I’m quite grateful to it. It has been and continues to be an important option that requires a rigorous system. I’m certainly not opposed to two parent families – it is, in many ways, ideal. I just wonder whether we continue to miss an opportunity to not only seek language that fully erases the shame around young unwed mothers, but also to provide a practical framework for anyone who might want to keep their babies, to do so with dignity, non-judgment, and societal support.

Upon the passing of the mother who raised you, your older brother revealed to you, at the age of 46, that you were adopted.  What impact did that have on your life and the familial connections with both your adoptive and biological families?  Were you angry or did you feel deceived by your adoptive family?

 It had almost zero impact on my outward life, since I had by that time sown most of my wild oats, was happily married with children and a fairly stable life. The news wasn’t a diagnosis of a fatal disease, and it wasn’t winning the Lotto, either. – It was this tectonic plate-shift that affected no one, it seemed, but me.  Inwardly, and for weeks thereafter – my sense of self, was rocked to the core.

But I wouldn’t say I was angry.  To the contrary, at 46 as I first began to process it, I was pretty awestruck that my parents had such intentionality to sit around the kitchen table and consider adoption. After all, they already had a lovely little boy. But in fact, they both wanted a lot of kids, and my mother had been told, after her TB, that she’d likely never conceive.  After a string of miscarriages, she began to think my brother was a lucky fluke. If anything, I regret that my brother, who was six when I showed up, had to keep a pretty big secret for a very long time. I don’t think my parents understood how strange and probably unhealthy that choice was for him.  But in all, no anger there, no need to feel deceived – just a lot of love for their devotion to all three of us.

Tuberculosis was a deadly, dangerous disease in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century.  Patients were quickly isolated for months or years until the infection took its course.  What has changed over these many decades in our understanding of TB and have we made progress against fear and alienation of the sick?

I know that my mother, Betty, kept a little grudge her whole life for the relatives who were too frightened to ever visit her while in quarantine.  A naughty list she never quite released.  On the flip side, I believe the experience gave her a deep empathy for physical suffering – she was a country-club mom who loved a good pool party, and a gossip session with neighbors…but when it came right down to it, anyone in her world, from grocer to manicurist – if you were suffering, she was at your side for as long as necessary.

As far as TB today – back in the 40’s having TB might carry a stigma around how you contracted it…and of course, the stigma of being contagious, but most everyone knew someone who had it.  Today, unfortunately, it has become another example of economic disenfranchisement – prisons, homelessness, poverty.

I don’t know anyone with TB, do you? But worldwide, TB, most often latent, already infects a quarter of the world’s populationAbout 10% of people will progress to having an active TB infection, as they become weakened through malnutrition, diabetes, HIV, or some other type of immune suppression. Doctors also forget that TB can lie dormant for decades and be rekindled by Prednisone, chemotherapy or new biologic immunotherapies for diseases like HIV.

So sadly, I’d say ‘no, we’ve made little progress against fear and alienation of the sick on a societal level. We may think we’ve dispensed with the stigma, but perhaps we’ve just made them invisible. Although just like in 1946, there are many, many angels out there, from nurses to social workers, teachers and just ordinary people whose every day actions are inclusive and supportive of the sick – whether it be mental illness, infectious disease, or disability.

Religion, particularly Catholicism, plays a big role in the lives of your characters.  How does Catholicism and the practice of religion bring comfort to the devoted, even as it labels them as sinners?

Catholicism plays a big role in the Malone family and it played a big role in my own. My father actually converted to Catholicism, though he swore it was not just to marry my mother! I was always aware of how different, perhaps more authentic, his faith was; having chosen it as an adult after the War.

Both Shannon and Eliza in the book evolve as Catholics.  Because their father is a professor of English Literature at a Catholic University, discussion in the household abounds…and they grow up with a healthy respect for curiosity and intellectual exploration.  As a result, as each faces challenges in approaching womanhood – especially after the traumas of 1946 – they use their fundamental Catholicism as a safety net of sorts, while stepping outside of its structure quite readily.  One sister expands her sense of religion, and embraces the thinking of C.S. Lewis, which is a relationship with a more personal, less prescribed God.  The other sister embraces the ritual of Mass as a proxy for the family she’s cut off – but her distrust of the Catholic structure that failed her becomes deeply rooted.

One of the characters in the book suffers a terrible, violent rape that changes the trajectory of her life.  How has the #MeToo movement prevailed over the shame surrounding sexual assault?

It’s possible that if the Malone family hadn’t already been on edge by Shannon’s quarantine and the sudden and imminent possibility of her death, Eliza may have behaved differently.  She makes her choice to bear the secret of her attack because of her prescribed role in the family as ‘caretaker’ to Shannon, and ‘the strong, smart one, who always manages to succeed gracefully.’  Unfortunately, she’s not as strong as she thought.

I’d like to believe that in today’s world, the same Eliza would seek help, if not from her family, from someone at school, a friend, a therapist.  But I speak from a world of privilege that we have not at all been able to shake in the decades since 1946.  Yes, #MeToo has provided language and a platform for more and more women of all ages to seek support, and to reclaim their power after abuse. And that is super important.

I have my own #MeToo moments that I have carried around for decades – and my emotions around them, thankfully, have changed, perhaps diminished with age and wisdom.

But, across all segments of society, we are nowhere even close to ‘prevailing.’ Look at Dahvie Vanity – an online pop star who sexually accosted 21 children over 12 years before a single victim felt compelled – and brave enough–to seek help. What about immigrant women, girls, (or men and boys!) who face sexual or physical abuse by their jailer, their employer, their neighbor, their spouse?  #MeToo isn’t truly for them.  Not yet.  We need to lock arms, keep the drum-beat insistent and growing.

The soldiers returning home from WWII—the “Greatest Generation”—are generally portrayed with reverence.  However, your novel reflects the long-term toll war and trauma exacted on them.  How did military veterans of the time and society deal with PTSD compared to our current wounded warriors?

I revered my dad, Bud Welch, who at 17 signed up for the Navy and sat in the belly of B-29s flying over Italy in 194XX.  Growing up, we didn’t hear much about his time in service.  All I knew of it was what I secretly gathered from his scrapbook and the fact that he suffered terrible claustrophobia as a result of those small chambers. Can you imagine landing in one of those planes, watching the tarmac race up to your face at 150 miles per hour!?

In the story, I didn’t want to paste a 21st  century issue on a midcentury war, after all, the term PTSD entered the DSM only in 1980; but upon research, it became clear that many service people suffered terrible consequences after WWI and WWII. The words were different – shell shocked, battle fatigue, irritable heart, but what about the long term condition? As for stigma, General Patton himself was known to brow-beat traumatized soldiers, and in WWI up to 65% of traumatized soldiers were sent back to the front.

Once again, then as now, it’s about respectful language and creating safe harbor for people to express their suffering, and to then provide abundant support.  I am no expert on PTSD, or on veteran services, but I, like many Americans, have been pretty horrified by the stories we hear about soldiers with post-duty brain trauma, PTSD, sexual assault, etc. and the shortcomings of our government to really get a grip on prioritizing their mental health care. But at least it seems the stigma of PTSD is beginning to fall away.   It was important for me to find ways for at least one character to express empathy for the attacker; to put his anguish and actions in context of the times.  Especially as a local ‘War Hero’ he had no way, no vehicle to treat his bewildering symptoms, which is incredibly sad.

One of the main female characters in the book embarks on a career in academia, achieving great success despite it being a male dominated profession.  How has your experience building an international career in the brewing industry given you insight about the struggle women have faced for decades in the workplace?

 I graduated high school in 1980, when women were at least beginning to receive signals that we could pursue any interest we chose.  In my circles, it came down to the messaging within one’s own family.  My father, a successful business man, never made any distinction whatsoever about his belief in my capacity to succeed.  While they had a traditional male-dominant household and marriage, my parents were both incredibly confident of my abilities and my potential.  Even with a head-start of supportive parents, equal pay has been a struggle from the beginning. As a young international sales and marketing executive, I had a boss once who was affronted by my request for a raise saying that I already earned more than his secretary. It has been an uphill battle.

Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet during FDR’s presidency, plays a small but pivotal role in the novel.  Why did you choose to incorporate this real life historical figure into your novel?

So, to add to the question above, I and my female peers owe a huge debt of gratitude to the work of women from previous generations – and specifically to women such as Frances Perkins. She was a central figure to the New Deal legislation, including minimum wage laws, social security, unemployment compensation, child labor laws just to name a few. She and her female peers tolerated so many inequalities – and spent their lives pushing and pushing for much needed change around workplace fairness.  Discovering Frances Perkins was this cool serendipity – I came upon her while looking for a character name, I think.  She quickly took on the role of representing Eliza’s yet-to-be-realized potential as a flawed and damaged character – the person Eliza wanted to become, but couldn’t until she’d faced her demons. And she represented the best of the American spirit before, during and after WWII.

Why do you think your adoptive mother never told you that you were adopted?  Do you think adopted children have the right to know the truth about their origins?

We moved away from St. Paul, Minnesota where cousins, aunts and uncles abounded, when I was four – and there seems to have been a tribal pact, heavily enforced by my mother until her dying day, to never breathe a word of my origin.  My parents had another birth child, my sister, two years after I came, and I think they also felt, wisely so, that whatever stigma there might be, would be magnified with non-adopted siblings.  I don’t know whether adopted children have the right to know the truth about their origins – I think it’s reasonable that adoptive parents have the right to manage that as they choose until a child becomes an adult.  But I do think that as adults, we do absolutely have that right – and perhaps that eventual disclosure is something adoptive parents need to consider as part of their decision about when and how to make the child aware of her adoption. In other words, it shouldn’t be ‘if’ we tell her, but ‘when.’ Common wisdom today is for open adoption, which seems to work – and stigma around adoption seems to have all but disappeared. I was pretty angry with Catholic Charities as I began my search for my birth mother, because their policy, at least in Minnesota, was to control and cut off that information. From my new-found perspective, that seemed unfair and hurtful.

The first days of your life were spent in the St. Paul Catholic Infants Home, nicknamed “Watermelon Hill,” for the unfortunate children of unwed mothers.  What role did the Catholic Church play in the adoption process of so called “illegitimate children” during the post-war boom in the conservative Midwest?

Watermelon Hill, the Catholic Infant Home was both for newborns and for unwed mothers in the last months of their pregnancies.  I prescribe to the notion that post WWII, the country was damaged but optimistic, soldiers were home and affluence was on the rise.  There was a movement afoot to get married, start families and pursue the American Dream. At the same time, the Catholic Church – and perhaps other religions, too (I really don’t know) – remained rigid in its expectations around pre-marital purity, and the sin of pre-marital sex.  Of course, the fruit of this sin was unavoidably obvious – a pregnant woman is tough to hide.  The dogmatic certainty that these shameful young women would be incapable of caring for their babies, and that they must be cut off from each other through adoption, was made expedient by the many, many willing couples – all upstanding, respectable Catholics.  An aspect of this that is most disturbing is that in many or most cases, the woman bore the burden of shame and of life-altering consequences – on top of the physiological challenges of child-birth.

Guest Blog Post – Jenn McKinlay’s high school reunion invite inspires next book

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Dying for Devil’s Food, by Jennifer McKinlay, A Berkley Prime Crime Paperback, $7.99 US/$10.00 CAN, includes recipes. 278 pages with excerpt from “Word to the Wise.”

**By Jenn McKinlay**

High school reunions can be murder — well, they can be if you’re Melanie Cooper and Angie Harper, baking cupcakes for your fifteen-year high school reunion — because of course they can!

Dying for Devil’s Food is the eleventh Cupcake Bakery Mystery. Eleventh! Can you believe it? (I can’t). And just when I thought I’d run out of ideas for the series, an invite to my high school reunion arrived. I immediately realized how perfect it would be for Mel and Angie to have to go back to high school with all of its unresolved conflict, angst, and mean girls. It was too good of a plotline to pass up.

When I called my best friend to see if she’d go with me to our reunion (research), she said no, unequivocally no. I was surprised. I mean I didn’t love my high school years but I didn’t hate them either, mostly, I think of them with the nostalgic glow of late 80’s big hair, Madonna inspired fashion, MTV, and John Hughes films. But my friend was most definitely in the no category. Her memories of high school included big heart break and an extreme case of shyness that she assures me I never noticed because I was too busy talking to everyone and anyone. It’s true I’m a talker and I view everyone as a friend I haven’t met yet. I thought everyone did that. Apparently, not.

Unfortunately for me, a schedule conflict with my own school-age children meant I couldn’t go. However, the person in charge put up tons of pictures online, so I got to see the event and the people who turned up and there was a nice flurry of posts about the party, so I got the gist. It looked like everyone was happy, possibly drunk, and most of the class had aged pretty well. There were a few people who looked worse for wear but they were the ones you’d expect as they were the wild ones back in the day, too.

Of course, as it usually proves out, the kids who had been rock stars in high school had peaked back then. Their adult lives were not what had been expected of them – no presidents, rocket scientists, professional athletes, or movie stars. And the students people hadn’t noticed back in the day? Well, some of them were doing some pretty amazing stuff with their lives. Achievement unlocked, which was delightful to see.

The coolest thing I noticed, however, was that the old cliques had been demolished. People who never spoke to each other in high school now had their arms around each other as they shared pictures of their kids and reminisced about that time a notebook was “accidentally” set on fire in Mr. Capazzi’s chemistry class or the time Mr. Bonavita’s combover hair coil got lifted up by the wind and unfurled to a length of three feet! Good times.

I have since made a solemn vow – to myself – that when the next reunion rolls around, I will do my best to be there. Although, it occurs to me that if any of my classmates read this book they might not invite me. Not that the characters are based on any of them, but some stuff happens…well, here’s a longer description so you can see for yourself.

Melanie Cooper has zero interest in catering her fifteen-year high school reunion, but Angie insists it’s only right that they bask in the success of Fairy Tale Cupcakes–and Mel’s engagement to the delicious Joe DeLaura is the cherry on top!

Everything is going better than expected until Cassidy Havers, resident mean girl and Mel’s high school nemesis, picks a fight. No longer willing to put up with Cassidy’s bullying, Mel is ready to tell the former homecoming queen to shut her piehole and call it a night. But as Mel and Joe prepare to depart, Cassidy is found dead in the girl’s bathroom, next to a note written in lipstick that points right to Mel–making her the prime suspect.

Now, Mel must follow the clues to find the real killer and keep her reputation from being frosted for a crime she didn’t commit.

 

Guest Blog Post – Victoria Thompson considers the not so innocent milk wagon

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Our guest today is Victoria Thompson, author of the bestselling Gaslight Mystery Series and the Counterfeit Lady novels.  Her latest Gaslight Mystery, Murder on Trinity Place, released on April 30.

Party like it’s 1899!

So I was working on ideas for Murder on Trinity Place, the 23rd book in the Gaslight Mystery Series. The series started in 1896, and after 22 books, we were approaching the end of 1899, so I thought it would be fun to show the turn of that century. Were people as excited about it as we were in 1999? It turns out they weren’t (which is a different blog post).  Where do I go from there?

Got Milk?

By this time, I had an idea for how to start Murder on Trinity Place, even if it wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. The murder would happen on New Year’s Eve, and I decided the victim would be a man whose legitimate business might be a cover for some sort of illegal activity.  I consulted a few of my writer friends (I knew they would help because it’s always easier to come up with ideas for other people’s books).  My good friend, Susanna Calkins, suggested that milk wagons could be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes when not actually hauling milk. What a perfect idea!  (such a perfect idea, as you will see, that I ended up dedicating the book to her.)

 And then the magic happened.

I started researching what milk delivery was like around the turn of the last century, and I discovered all sorts of things about milk that I’d never dreamed of. Did you know that at one point in time in New York City, they had “milk wars”? Did you know that in mid-Nineteenth Century New York City, half of the children died before the age of five?  Half of them! And why? Mostly from drinking contaminated milk. Yikes. This was serious stuff. This is why writers love doing research. Truth is often much more interesting than anything you could make up yourself.

 “Never cry over spilt milk, because it may have been poisoned.” –W.C. Fields

When the owner of a dairy is found murdered, Frank and Sarah Malloy are asked to solve the case by their very superstitious neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, because the victim is the father of her new daughter-in-law. (Can we all take a moment here to lament the fact that the English language has no easy way to describe your relationship to your child’s in-laws? “My daughter-in-law’s parents” is so unwieldy.  But I digress.)  Since Mrs. Ellsworth once saved Sarah’s very life, they cannot refuse, and they begin an investigation that leads them to some very surprising places.

Milk has long been a staple of the American diet.  What are your memories of drinking it as a child? Do you remember home delivery? Do you like milk? Hate it? Are you allergic?  Are you surprised to learn that at one point it time drinking it could actually be dangerous?

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Murder on Trinity Place

9780399586637 The devil’s in the details when a respected man is found murdered near historic Trinity Church, in the exciting new novel from the national bestselling Gaslight Mystery series…

As 1899 draws to a close, Frank and Sarah Malloy are ready to celebrate the New Year–and century–at Trinity Church when they notice Mr. Pritchard, a neighbor’s relative, behaving oddly and annoying the other revelers. When Frank tries to intervene and convince Pritchard to return home with them, he refuses and Frank loses him in the crowd. The next morning Sarah and Frank are horrified to learn Pritchard was murdered sometime in the night, his body left on Trinity Place, mere steps from the incident. Frank and Sarah must search Pritchard’s past for a link between the new crimes…and old sins.

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Victoria Thompson is the bestselling author of the Edgar and Agatha Award nominated Gaslight Mystery Series and the Sue Grafton Memorial Award nominated Counterfeit Lady Series. Her latest books are Murder on Trinity Place and City of Secrets, both from Berkley. She currently teaches in the Master’s Degree program for writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She lives in Illinois with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Broken Bone China by Laura Childs

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Broken Bone China

A Tea Shop Mystery

By Laura Childs

Berkley Prime Crime Hardcover

March 5, 2019

$26.00

Living dangerously is a natural part of Theodosia Browning’s life. As owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, it’s not uncommon for her to schedule a themed tea party, but the majority of the time, instead of serving her customers, a special blend of tea, she’s trying to solve a murder.

In the latest Tea Shop Mystery, Theo and her resident sommelier, Drayton, are enjoying a hot air balloon ride with the Top Flight Balloon club after hosting an afternoon tea in Hampton Park. When the skies turn dark, the peaceful scene of balloons gliding turns into a front row seat to a deadly attack when one of the balloons is struck by a drone. The deadly device claims the life of three businessmen right before their eyes.

Theo’s friend’s fiance is immediately caught in Detective Tidwell’s suspect radar. Why is simple: he owns a drone and was fired from SyncSoft. One of the men killed in the hot air balloon was Don Kingsley, the software company’s CEO. Harold doesn’t seem to be a murderer. He was fired from his job because he said they were doing something wrong that would affect a lot of people and he didn’t want to be silent about it. But, interesting enough, there’s another investigative angle. Let’s talk about the valuable Revolutionary War British flag that a number of collectors know about and would like to get their greedy little hands on. One seems to really care about preserving the past and she has the degree to prove it. Or, so she says. Then there are a number of others trying to figure out where the now-missing flag is so they can grab it and sell it for a considerable profit.

As always, Laura’s novels are a welcoming retreat from a busy real life. Though you were told what the weapon was from the beginning, figuring out who the operator was created a challenge. Let’s hope that such a device is never used this way. I liked the historical angle. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to find a military flag from that era. It reminds you how easily historical artifacts can get in the wrong hands. Also, I would like to see the “truth” not revealed so quickly. More suspense is needed. Maybe that’s just the editing process to keep the books a certain length.

What I’d like to see in future books in the series, Theo getting to spend more time with the man she’s crazy about. Maybe learn more about Theo’s family or meet a family member. Drayton doing something out of character for once. The man needs to loosen up and have at least one night of fun. Don’t remember if it was mentioned before, but I’d love for Haley to create a cookbook.

four and three-quarter drones out of five

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

April 18, 2019

Next review: A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

 

NOTE TO PR REPS, AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS. Have you ever thought of promoting a book through a virtual chat? If you download the firestorm viewer for Mac or PC, then create an avatar on https://web.ourgrid.life, you can then visit Inspiration Island and Landar Studio to be a chat guest or for a book reading. IM Netera Landar in-world for more information or Netera@aol.com.